Creativity, inspiration and mining the past

Sometimes it’s colour combinations, sometimes it’s motifs and sometimes it’s just the overall essence of an image that provides a creative spur when searching for inspiration. We all do it and the Victorians’ passion for mining their past is proudly visible in their cultural output.

Most of the stained glass windows that decorate St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, are the work of three leading stained glass firms of the nineteenth century. Stained glass by Clayton and Bell, Hardman & Co and C E Kempe fill the cathedral windows with their work inspired by long-gone and unnamed medieval craftsmen. There is, however, one window whose lights are not Victorian, but date from the late medieval period. At first glance maybe they all look the same, but one has a different ‘feel’! (I’ve labelled it).

Mary Tudor, a favourite sister

St Mary's Bury Suffolk
St Mary’s Parish Church, Bury St Edmund’s, Suffolk.
Resting place of Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk.
Mary Tudor was the fifth child of seven born to King Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York. Mary Tudor’s first marriage was to King Louis XII of France and she was his third wife.

These two pictures were displayed near Mary’s tomb. The image on the left is Mary Tudor (c.1514) painted for Louis XII. The original is attributed to Jean Perréal of Paris, Royal Painter at the French Court. The portrait was painted before Mary left England for France. The image on the right is a copy from a portrait of Mary (c.1516) painted with her husband the Duke of Suffolk. The original oil is attributed to Jan Gossaert.

The marriage to the King of France only lasted two years and upon the death of Louis, Mary scandalously married Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, in a secret ceremony in Paris.

It was a secret wedding as the couple had not gained approval from the English King Henry VIII, her brother. For a royal sister to marry without permission was considered treason and both Mary and Charles could have been executed. Fortunately, following a defence of their marriage by senior advisers such as Cardinal Wolsey, the King decided to level a large fine instead. The Duke and Duchess were then formally married in public at Greenwich Hall in London.

Buried next to the altar. Mary Tudor Queen of France. St Mary's, Bury St Edmund's, Suffolk.
Buried next to the altar.
Mary Tudor Queen of France.
St Mary’s, Bury St Edmund’s, Suffolk.

Mary Tudor may have been a King’s sister and a King’s wife, but as the Duchess of Suffolk she was buried in the Abbey at Bury St Edmund’s in Suffolk. It is possible she had a stone tomb within the Abbey in the Tudor style, but following the Dissolution of the Monasteries the Abbey was spoiled and she was reburied in St Mary’s Parish Church. A space next to the altar, as her royal rank dictates, is marked as her resting place, but without a formal funereal structure.

These plaques hang above the area of Mary’s tomb.

Mary-Tudor-plaques

Sacred to the Memory of Mary Tudor, Third Daugther of Henry the 7th King of England, and Queen of France; Who was first married in 1514 to Lewis the 12th King of France, and afterwards in 1517, to Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk. She died in His Life Time in 1533, at the Manor of Westhorp in this County and was interred in the same Year in the Monastery of St Edmund’s Bury, and was removed into this Church, after the Dissolution of the Abbey.

Interestingly, the aristocratic, but not royal Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, is buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

St Mary's interior - site of a royal Tudor burial, a pleasant English church, but no Westminster Abbey or St George's Chapel, Windsor.
St Mary’s interior – site of a royal Tudor burial, a pleasant English church, but no Westminster Abbey or St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Words, words, words – Lorina Bulwer’s inspirational embroidered letters (part 1)

Lorina-Bulwer-red-manEarlier this year I went to the exhibition ‘Frayed: Textiles on the Edge’ at the Time & Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth. The aim of the exhibition was to highlight examples of embroidered work that had been created by people at times of mental distress. Perhaps the most eye-catching works were two long embroidered ‘letters’ sewn by Lorina Bulwer.

These two pieces are 12ft and 14ft long by about 14 inches wide.  Each ‘letter’ has been worked in coloured wools on pieced cotton grounds using various colours to ensure the text is clear and readable on every different ground.

Lorina (born in Beccles, Suffolk in 1838) made her letters whilst residing in the lunatic wing of Great Yarmouth Workhouse between 1900 and 1910. Many of the words are underlined as she angrily relates her story including writing about her family, neighbours and her troubled life.

Been-to-Sandringham

When I saw Lorina’s work I remembered Tracy Emin’s provocative textile creations. Maybe the soft pliable quality of embroidered cloth and the frequent prettiness of embroidery magnifies the power of angry text. It was an inspiring exhibition and has led me to work a design for a scarf using text. My words are places in Suffolk and Norfolk surrounded by a few lines of verse from various poems by William Blake. I chose Blake as his words were also the words of an angry outsider.

 

A matter of delicacy

Surrey-tombThis is the fine painted alabaster tomb of ‘The Poet Earl’. Erected in 1614 it is the funereal monument for Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey and his wife, Frances, the Countess of Surrey. This monument is one of several Howard tombs at St Michael’s, Framlingham in Suffolk.

poet earl, earl of surrey
Detail of the Earl of Surrey tomb showing his sons Thomas, 4th Duke of Norfolk (front) and Henry, 1st Earl of Northampton (behind).
Painted alabaster, 1614.
St Michael’s, Framlingham.
(Thomas like his father also lost his head on Tower Hill.)
Detail from the tomb of the Duke of Richmond.
Detail from the tomb of the Duke of Richmond.
The Earl (1517-47) was the eldest son of Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and great friend and brother-in-law to Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Richmond. Although, widely acknowledged as the King’s son, Richmond was illegitimate and as such when he died of consumption at just 17 years old he was buried with the Howards at Thetford Priory. The dissolution of the monasteries brought about the closure of Thetford Priory in 1540 and the tombs and their contents were moved to St Michael’s Framlingham.

The tomb of the Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII.
The tomb of the Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII.

More interestingly Henry Howard, the Poet Earl, was also friends with another Tudor poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-42). Together with Wyatt, the Earl is credited with introducing the sonnet form of poetry into English.

Detail of heraldic sculpture on Earl of Surrey tomb. After centuries of neglect the tomb was restored in 1976.
Detail of heraldic sculpture on Earl of Surrey tomb. After centuries of neglect the tomb was restored in 1976.

During the reign of Henry VIII the ‘Norfolks’ were in and out of favour with the King and towards the end of his reign both Thomas (father) and Henry (son) ended up in the Tower of London. Following much court intrigue the pair were found guilty of treason and in January 1547 Henry Howard, the Poet Earl, was beheaded at the Tower. His father’s execution date was set for 29 January 1547 but King Henry died the day before. Following the death of Henry VIII the old Duke of Norfolk was not executed, but instead spent the next six years in the Tower. As a Catholic he was finally released on the accession to the throne of Queen Mary. He died a year later aged 80 years old at his Kenninghall residence – a Norfolk Howard that was not executed.

Wild-Boar-Surrey

Effigy of The Poet Earl atop his tomb in St Michael's, Framlingham, Suffolk.
Effigy of The Poet Earl atop his tomb in St Michael’s, Framlingham, Suffolk.

OF THE DEATH OF SIR THOMAS WYATT.

DIVERS thy death do diversely bemoan :
Some, that in presence of thy livelihed
Lurked, whose breasts envy with hate had swoln,
Yield Cæsar’s tears upon Pompeius’ head.
Some, that watched with the murd’rer’s knife,
With eager thirst to drink thy guiltless blood,
Whose practice brake by happy end of life,
With envious tears to hear thy fame so good.
But I, that knew what harbour’d in that head ;
What virtues rare were tempered in that breast ;
Honour the place that such a jewel bred,
And kiss the ground whereas the corpse doth rest ;
With vapour’d eyes : from whence such streams availe,
As Pyramus did on Thisbe’s breast bewail.

Further poems from the Poet Earl can be found at Luminarium.

Following their parents, at the back of the tomb are the Earl of Surrey's three daughters, Jane, Katherine and Margaret.
Following their parents, at the back of the tomb are the Earl of Surrey’s three daughters, Jane, Katherine and Margaret.

Heaven in Suffolk – Masaaki Suzuki plays Bach

Framlingham St Michael
St Michael’s Church, Framlingham, Suffolk.
Every now and then the ordinariness of everyday life falls away and you are left in a very special place. It could be the beauty of an unexpected view, the heady scent of a delicate bloom, but last week for me it was hearing Bach’s ‘Vater unser im Himmelreich’. It was played on the Thamar organ in St Michael’s Church, Framlingham, by one of the world’s most celebrated Bach specialists, Masaaki Suzuki.

Sandwiched between some Buxtehude and Bach’s ‘Prelude & Fugue in E minor’ BWV 548, it was a glimpse of the sublime. I know you shouldn’t attempt to unpick such moments, but I have been trying to understand why it was so good.

The interior of the church is nothing special. However, I think its size coupled with the stone walls and pillars, provides a cavernous-feeling acoustic without being too big for the sound of the restored 17th-century Thamar organ. Secondly, the rich, mellow sound of the organ was powerful without becoming harsh and strident. And, finally, the playing of Masaaki Suzuki imparted a gentle, flowing sentiment that still pulsed with a firm 18th-century rhythm.

painted pipes
The painted pipes of the Thomas Thamar Organ – one of only three surviving 17th-century Thamar organs.

The Vikings – but I’m an Anglo-Saxon

Purse-lid-detailLiving in East Anglia we are well aware that over a 1000 years ago Scandinavian longboats could be sighted rowing up the marshy waterways to invade our islands.

Sutton Hoo
Introducing my daughter to our Anglo-Saxon heritage at Sutton Hoo,
Nr Woodbridge, Suffolk.
Ship mound in the background.

I grew up in a village called Danbury, and went to the local school in the nearby town of Maldon (Maeldune) on the River Blackwater. “Maeldune” is the Saxon spelling of Maldon and means “a cross on the hill”. At school we learnt about the local area’s Saxon heritage supported by archaeological finds and the ‘Battle of Maldon‘ as recounted in the ‘Anglo Saxon Chronicles’ and the Anglo Saxon poem ‘The Battle of Maldon’. The battle took place in AD991 between the Saxons living around the River Blackwater and the Vikings who raided in their famous longboats.

River Deben Sutton Hoo
View down to the River Deben from the Sutton Hoo ship burial site. Yes, that’s correct the Anglo-Saxons dragged the king’s longboat from the river and up the hill before burying it in a mound.

Last week I went to the British Museums’s Exhibition about the Vikings. Known as a ‘blockbuster’ exhibition with all the accompanying publicity we knew it would be busy even with the ‘timed’ entry (vigorously policed by the staff) – and it was. The first two rooms were dark and overcrowded with tiny pieces mounted in minimal, sparse arrangements. I know one of the agendas pursued by the curators was to dampen down the ‘Vikings as raiders’ legacy and present a more rounded version of Viking culture, but once you’ve seen a couple of oversized brooches they really aren’t that exciting. And, there wasn’t a single example of jewellery to compare with the Anglo-Saxon pieces found at the early 7th-century ship burial at Sutton Hoo. (Incidentally available to see for free in a new gallery display in the main part of the BM.)

Sutton Hoo shoulder clasps
Polychrome jewellery hinged shoulder-clasp from Mound 1, Sutton Hoo.
Gold decorated with garnets, millefiore glass and gold wire filigree. 48 mm

Nevertheless, I quickly glanced my way through these rooms until I opened the door into the main new exhibition hall. And, there it was, the boat, Roskilde 6 (archaeologists’ site nomenclature). Firstly, none of the press photos do it justice. The ship’s size (37 metres long) is the longest longboat discovered so far and the metal re-construction is beautiful encouraging you to mentally extend the few original surviving wooden planks of the Roskilde 6.

Press photograph © Rebecca Reid, The London Evening Standard.
Press photograph © Rebecca Reid, The London Evening Standard.

But most stunning and evocative was the way you could stand at one end and see the whole boat stretching away across the North Sea as the wave filled view gradually changed from dark and menacing into a gentle evening sunset. I was quite transfixed by the arrangement and the clever use of video. It wasn’t like a fairground trick, but a gentle prompt to your historical imagination. All of a sudden I was considerably impressed by the Vikings’ skill and energy for exploration.

Sutton Hoo purse lid
Sutton Hoo – the purse lid. The gold frame is set with cloisonné garnets and millefiori glass and encloses a modern lid containing the original gold, garnet and millefiori plaques. Length 19.0 cm

Sorry – I did ask – but it was strictly no photography, but here’s the magnificent purse lid from the early 7th century, Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk. (Smaller longboat than the Viking one, only 27 metres, but you can see it’s all part of the Northern European cultural continuum.)

Peter Grimes – Sea Mist, Sea Breezes & a Suffolk Opera

Sometimes people have grand ideas that never come to fruition, but luckily those amazing people involved with the opera production of ‘Grimes on the Beach’ for the 2013 Aldeburgh Festival brought us a dramatic and memorable evening. Despite the myriad of difficulties associated with staging an opera outside on a beach, seeing ‘Peter Grimes’ on this specific beach where the fictional action takes place, was mesmerizing.

Grimes stage setting left
Grimes on the Beach – a dramatic yet poetic staging.

Our evening was enhanced by arriving in a thick sea mist that came and went during the performance when the weather changed as dusk turned to night.

Sea mist Aldeburgh
The sea mist engulfs the coastal path walking into Aldeburgh.

Britten’s music evoking the sea and the Suffolk coast, a particular coast of shifting shingle, has always been significant for me especially during my time living away from East Anglia. I am a girl of the grey sea and the huge skies, and hearing the waves breaking on the shingle in the quieter passages of this tragic opera was enchanting.

Grimes Stage Right
Grimes on the Beach with the North Sea as the backrop. Aldeburgh Festival 2013

It was a brave decision to mark the centenary of Britten’s birth with this ambitious production and I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing to thank and congratulate the soloists, chorus and orchestra members, and all the production team for this spirited and successful work. Bravo.

Oversized Shirts and Wellington Boots

School holidays, of course I remember long, hot days on the dunes and the beach, inventing intense and convoluted adventure dramas with my sister.

Palms and sandy beach
Pirate Ready Beach

We were pirates with oversized shirts and wellington boots, but I remember being more interested in action rather than costumes. We were lucky, we were left to our own devices whilst our father fished and our mother read or sketched. Okay, we didn’t have a sun-drenched, desert island as our backdrop, but the Suffolk coast in the late 1960s was a quiet, relatively empty place open to our imaginations. More recently my daughter has enjoyed being a pirate, but not at the seaside.  It has been ‘Pirate Parties’, particularly following the success of ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ films.


So, now, here we are on the Suffolk coast again in the 21st century. It is the school holidays again.

What? Dressing up? Nah – just chill with the phone.

Bored children.
The Three Graces . . . bored on the beach.